COLUMBIA — Sharing the name of a prominent figure in Missouri's history can be a definite cause for confusion — especially if your namesake is both deceased and of a different race.
"It's been an interesting week," Tom Bass said. He is among the white descendants of emancipated slave and world-renowned horse trainer Tom Bass. "Half the people thought I was going to get an award; the other half of the people thought I was deceased," Bass said.
Boone County Hall of Fame welcomed three new members Thursday night in a ceremony at the Walters-Boone County Historical Museum. Inductees included local contractor Bill Wulff, Missouri-based agricultural cooperative MFA Inc. and Bass, the emancipated slave.
"These three individuals truly exemplify what is best about Boone County and what makes it a great place to live," said Jenifer Flink, executive director and curator of the historical museum.
Wulff, the co-owner of Wulff Bros. Construction Co., is responsible for the planning and construction of the historical museum.
MFA Inc., represented by president and CEO Bill Streeter, was also honored Thursday night. The business is one of the country's top agricultural cooperatives and will celebrate its centennial in 2014. According to its website, the company reports around $1 billion in annual sales and has more than 45,000 members.
Bass was born to a slave mother, Cornelia Gray, and a white father, William Hayden Bass, who was the son of a plantation owner. Bass grew up on the plantation, and his love and knowledge of horses developed from a young age and continued to grow throughout his life. Bass specialized in training American Saddlebred horses, a breed commonly used in competitions.
Over the course of his career, Bass "competed at every major horse show in the country," and won more than 2,000 blue ribbons, Janet Thompson said during the ceremony. Thompson is the president of the Boone County chapter of the American Saddlebred Association.
Bass is credited with the invention of the Bass Bit, a biting apparatus used during training that was designed to be comfortable in the horse's mouth. While a patent would have presented Bass with a considerable fortune, he saw his invention as a gift to horses and refused patenting.
Some of Bass' remaining family members are amazed that almost 80 years after his death, Bass is finally receiving recognition.
"It's been a long time coming," Wynna Faye Elbert, a cousin of Bass' sister, said. "We're proud it's finally happening."